It’s Paris, or never!


U.S President Barack Obama


AFRICA set the tone for the countdown to the pivotal climate conference in Paris, France this December, by boldly taking a unanimous position supporting the idea of establishing the Green Climate Fund (GCF) at the Africa Climate Talks (ACT) meeting held early last month in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.
GCF is a fund within the framework of the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) founded as an instrument to redistribute money from the developed to the developing world, in order to assist the developing countries to adapt to and mitigate effects of climate change.
UN member states are to accelerate the fight against climate change through plans known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) which contain details of what each country is prepared to do as part of a intended new global climate agreement.
Countries are also to come up with their proposed climate change adaptation policies, which is a planned course of action to combat the ravages of climate change.
Climate change refers to a change in average weather conditions, or in the time variation of weather around longer-term middling conditions evidenced by more or fewer extreme weather conditions.
Although all countries and power blocs now agree that climate change is a reality and one which requires urgent action, discord still abounds on how to tackle the issue.
But recent developments on the global scale have raised some hope that maybe this time around, after years of failing to agree on a binding global action plan to limit the impact of climate change; a common position could be thrashed.
There have been positive developments in the countdown to Paris, as different blocs and leading nations, for the first time since the cries for an agreed position on the deadly phenomenon started, leading many to be positive that a global climate agreement could be finally in the offing.
Although some still feel that the path to a climate deal in Paris is littered with obstacles, principal among them being how to differentiate between what industrialised nations, led by the United States, would do to cut fossil-fuel pollution, and what commitments developing countries will themselves make.
Fossil-fuel pollution is the single biggest catalyst of climate change as it comprises coal, oil, wood and other related fuels with high pollution levels that are responsible for warming global temperatures.
What has raised hope is a huge position shift by the world’s richest countries, seven of them, that are more responsible for greenhouse gas emissions than the rest of the world put together.
These nations have for long resisted moves for a settlement which would, for example make them pay the bigger price of correcting past environmental wrongs under the climate fund.
As such, delegates have trooped to successive climate conferences in their numbers, Copenhagen, Durban, Rome, Rio de Janeiro, Kyoto etc and filed back to their countries after only having exchanged harsh criticism and no tangible solution.
But governments, meeting at the Paris preparatory UN climate talks in Geneva, Switzerland in February this year, gave the world a flicker of hope when they came up with a draft climate change agreement which hopefully will be finalised in Paris in December.
A plan to completely phase out fossil fuel emissions features prominently in the document which also thankfully includes important issues and information about health benefits of climate change action, human rights, and some options for ensuring resilience of developing countries in the face of climate extremes.
Then the seven most industrialised countries of the world, converging under the banner of G7, for the very first time expressed their strong grit to reach a deal at Paris at their G7 summit in Germany in June.
However, the aftermath of that summit has disappointed many amid revelations that all G7 members, but Japan, have submitted their INDCs showing that none was ready to phase out fossil fuel emissions during this century, which still has 85 years to go. For example, Germany has proposed that it will only be able to completely do away with fossil fuels by the year 2100.
This is despite spine chilling warnings by both UN systems and scientists that global temperatures are warming up at an unprecedented rate, with effects of climate change already being heavily felt in different regions of the globe, not any less in sub-Saharan Africa.
Scientists have warned that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, the world would pass the threshold beyond which global warming becomes catastrophic and irreversible.
That threshold is estimated as a temperature rise of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and on current emissions rate, scientists warn we could be headed for a rise of about five degrees Celsius in the next 30 years.
They also warn that in 30 years, at this rate, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would have raised temperatures by two degrees Celsius higher than in pre-industrial times. Accompanying it would be aggravated storms, extreme heat waves, rising sea levels and reduced rainfall.
“The most important decision to be taken in Paris will therefore be to agree, through a binding commitment, that two degrees Celsius is the highest acceptable limit of global warming on earth. All other decisions taken in Paris will follow as a consequence of that agreement,” said prominent environment scientist and researcher, Christopher Magadza.
There is however going to be a huge test of resolve and commitment for nations as experts caution that to keep any temperature rise to that limit, success of whatever agreement will heavily rely on pledges from countries and power blocks to settle individual targets.
“That will be extremely tricky,” Magadza said.
Third world countries agree that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, are the deed of developed nations, from whom everyone else should demand a clear commitment to provide financial support to help them to adapt to a hotter planet and to militate against the worst effects of global warming.
It is particularly this financial support, dubbed green fund, which has reduced previous efforts into talk-shows and hindered any meaningful progress as either sides refused to balk.
Yet, any delays would mean that the cost of adapting to a more hostile climate and cope with its deadly effects, currently standing at US$50 billion a year according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), could grow by as much as 1 000 percent by mid-21st Century.
The UNEP’s report released at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, Africa’s Adaptation held in Cairo, Egypt in March, says adaptation costs in all developing countries together could climb as high as US$250-500 billion per year by 2050 if urgent action is not taken.
The whole world has set its eyes on the two largest polluters, USA and China, both of whom have recently shown significant commitment.
The US Republican Party has for long denied any climate change, forestalling progress but observers say a lot has happened, probably overtaking its far-fetched policy, since they last tested power almost ten years ago.
President Barak Obama’s recent determination to reduce US power plant emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 sends a message to world leaders that the UN climate talks in Paris could just succeed this time around. Obama had to dribble Republicans by using the Clean Air Act of 1970, which allowed him to bypass Republican opposition in Senate and Congress.
China has also made strides through cutting coal use and encouraging green fuel. The Chinese government announced early this year that it was lowering tax rates for green fuel investors in addition to cheaper loans while maintaining a stringent taxing regime on coal users.
The intervention by Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church has humanised what often is a bleakly technical and esoteric debate, one more reason why the world can believe in Paris. The popular Pope has recently managed to win admiration from non-Catholics.
Thus, the Paris gathering, which has been dubbed as the last chance for a deal to avert the beyond two degrees Celsius temperature rise, should certainly bring what everyone is looking forward to – commitment by all nations, in their varying capabilities.
It’s Paris, or never.